Subjective Objectivity – The Blog of The Reasonable Man

February 22, 2013

On Oscar Pistorius and trial by media

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 3:17 am

If there is one thing I have learned – or more accurately have had re-affirmed – is that we all love a good killing. We especially love it when it has famous people involved and even more importantly, at least one physically attractive woman involved. If there is an added twist or two – some sort of differentiation from common or garden killings – then all the better. 

Well we have every element of those right here dear reader in the soon-to-be trial of Oscar Pistorius. I won’t rehearse the reasons why the gutter media’s ghoulish depiction of the tragedy – we can probably all agree that it merits that word – wherein we had reports of a young woman’s death while being treated to a bikini shot of said woman on the same page kind of proves Lord Levenson’s point. Instead, I will focus on the “news” that has erupted from the South African courts over the course of the week or more. 

I won’t bore you with criminal procedure, but suffice to say at this stage, anything that is presented by the media as “facts” are in fact assertions by the respective legal teams on each side. Both accept that Pistorius discharged a firearm four times into the bathroom where his now deceased girlfriend was, and by doing so ended his life. What we now have are a series of positions and statements from each side, aimed at the question of whether a man missing the lower parts of his legs and likely to be staying in the most watched residence in South Africa – second only to the almost equally ghoulish Nelson Mandela deathwatch – is likely to be inclined or even able to flea in the face of the charges against him. 

But the media do not follow procedural rules, so they have begun their trial already. And all very well, that’s what they do. However it again shows the limits of information as I have argued elsewhere. We are getting reports of things that have been said by the advocates on each side. Luckily, the media need only to present them in “scare quotes” for it be considered reporting on what was said plainly without comment, rather than advocacy for a position of where the truth lies. 

So, when “Pistorius put on his legs before shooting” appears as a headline in your news feed, you as member of the rump public of course would not jump to the conclusion that that is now settled fact in the matter, you would calmly think “ah – that is an interesting point that the prosecution is making, I await the defense rebuttal and will of course judge objectively based on the evidence adduced”. You certainly do not have your opinion or suspicions aroused the implied implication that the subsequent trial on the charge of pre-meditated murder, an action that took time implicates one way or the other. Nor do the journalistic outlets presenting you with said information in said manner in any intend for you to take a subjective or even prejudiced view of the matter, they are merely presenting it as reported fact. 

In case you didn’t detect glibness and irony in my tone just now, I will confess that it was there. Such headlines are designed to inflame the passion despite revealing nothing beyond what seems to be avid speculation from the prosecution and self-serving defending from… the defense. And then we hear that he shot four times, and that shows he intended to kill, as if that undermines the man’s defense of mistaken identity. Much like the question of whether he put his blades on does nothing of the sort either.

But both are sheared of context, some of which I believe I can at least attempt to provide here. In South Africa, everyone has a gun in their home, or they live in compound with a level of security that makes it unneccesary or they are poor. Everyone lives in places with a level of inherent security that means that if someone is intruding in your house, they have a plan. And they almost certainly have a gun with no hesitation about using it to kill you. They’re also fairly likely to throw some rape into the endeavour as well. Point is, reaching for the gun is a very natural thing. I lived there in the 1980s when the good times were rolling and my own father took me into a gun store for some ammunition as casually as if we were going to pick up the drycleaning. And the threat of that is far worse now. To put it bluntly, in his position, and with fully functioning limbs, I can see a situation in which I act like Pistorius is claiming like he acted. I am not saying that definitely would, but it’s within a fairly plausible universe of possibilities. 

I’m not saying that the man did not intend to kill his girlfriend, and I accept that he very much intended to kill whoever was behind that door. But to read the headlines and not drill down into the facts – assuming there are individuals who take their media that way – you really don’t have a fucking clue what happened. More importantly, the proceedings that are being reported on, aren’t even there to determine the facts of what happened. They are there to establish that if, on the strength of the case as presented by the prosecution, the defense can give reason why a man on a charge for pre-meditated murder ought be granted the liberty of being bailed at the pleasure of the state. 

And let me be clear, the press guys involved do not give one ounce of crap about the deceased victim in this beyond what good copy it would make. Otherwise we might hear a little more at length about the horrific murder situation that is somewhat par for the course in South Africa, beyond a recitation of some of the more particularly gory spectacles. No, Johnny Q Reporter does not care a jot about the dead girl in this instance beyond the fact he may slightly regret it’s one less hot blonde girl he can fantasise about when he’s having pedestrian sex with his wife. And probably that’s even a tenuous good faith assumption. 

What the media want instead is a rolling narrative that is sexy enough to sell papers and generate pageviews and from which their sociopathic commenters can bloviate without a shred of legitimacy while you and I dear reader get to be distracted by the only lesson there is – just how harrowing and tragic this world can be and what horrible mistakes human beings can make. It’s how they make their money, these purveyors of the Terrible, through fear, hate and delusion, all seasoned with the classic spice of hypocrisy. All the while presuming themselves the mantle of stately arbiter while resisting any attempt to be held accountable for that self-appointed role.

Lord Leveson should be ashamed for having so grossly understated his case.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable


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